Visualizing absolute numbers

Quite often we deal with quantities that differ a lot and when it comes to visualizing those we tend to play tricks like using logarithmic scales or calculating relative numbers, a process by which a lot of the story gets lost.

Here is an artists’ project called Of All The People In All The World (Stan’s Cafe), that used rice grain to depict human beings:

Related: Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

Talks Hans Rosling: Asia’s rise — how and when

Hans Rosling was a young guest student in India when he first realized that Asia had all the capacities to reclaim its place as the world’s dominant economic force. At TEDIndia, he graphs global economic growth since 1858 and predicts the exact date that India and China will outstrip the US.

Comparing Thematic Maps

Statistical graphics are most convincing when they allow for interesting comparisons. A pie- or bar-chart allows comparisons in one data dimension as does one map, it shows how one variable varies in different regions. But data analysis shouldn’t stop here. Diagrams like the animated population pyramid or the gapminder/trendalyzer allow comparisons in more than one dimension where one of the dimensions is usually time which is depicted through animation.
Comparing regional patterns is a little trickier. A standard use case could be the question if people have more children in regions where conservative votes are higher. This would statistically be done by calculating correlations. However regression analysis is not for everybody. At least it would be nice to show two related patterns side by side and give people an idea what correlated variables would look like. Below is an example of how this could be implemented:

You can check out this mapping application at
it will work for at least 95% of internet users

To build an ecosystem of data on the Web

Using statistical data to explain the world, telling stories with statistical data, visualizing statistical data to make these data accessible in a quick and instructive manner – all these topics are well known and belong to  long and intensive discussions and activities in many institutions of official statistics. Results can be seen on the websites of National Statistical Institutes and international statistical organisations.

Some examples:


OECD explorer

ECB Inflation dashboard

World Bank Atlas

Business Cycle Tracer Statistics Nertherlands

Stat@las Statistics Switzerland

Eurostat TGM

There are many other visualizations and behind all these user friendly databases with free access for everybody. This is the ecosystem of official statistics.

Official satistical data are also used and presented outside the institutions of official statistics (see: earlier post raw data now and helping free up data), the discussions and aims are comparable, the instruments are innovative.

Well known is Gapminder which collects data from many sources and offers a presentation tool that has also been integrated as motion chart in the list of visualization widgets of Google spreadsheets.

Google’s Fusion Tables (see earlier post Fusion Tables and provide some more possibilities of data collaboration and data visualization. Listening to Alon Halevy, senior Google engineer and Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute (which uses Fusion Tables) well known arguments can be heard: ‘ “The biggest potential [of Google Fusion Tables] is to build an ecosystem of data on the Web. This means making it easy for the people to upload, to merge data sets, to discuss the data, to create visualizations and then to take these visualizations and put them elsewhere on the Web so that there’s better data on the Web.” ‘

Link: Google Fusion Tables Continue reading “To build an ecosystem of data on the Web”

OECD eXplorer on the BBC News

NCVA’s OECD eXplorer on the BBC News (direct link to NEWS SITE for National Center for Visual Analytics, NCVA, at the University of Linköping, Sweden)

OECD eXplorer on BBC News

On July 2nd BBC News showed a 3 minutes long program demonstrating OECD eXplorer in live action to explore and visualize complex regional statistical world data – a geovisual analytics technique developed by NCVA.

Direct link to the video and to the BBC site:, where also Gapminder is pointed out.

See also links to all eXplorer applications here including the new ones for Eurostat and Statistics Sweden.

Best of TED: Hans Rosling – now in Wired

Published in Wired Blog Network:
By Kim Zetter EmailFebruary 03, 2009 | 5:52:12 PMCategories: TED Conference
Hans Rosling is probably the only academic who ends his PowerPoint presentation by swallowing a sword. And he does this while wearing a muscle-T bedazzled with lightning bolts made from shiny, gold sequins.
Rosling is probably also the only academic who can make dry staTed_logo_3tistics dance like musical theater stars while revealing startling facts about the world and debunking preconceptions. Think the developing world is less developed than the western world? Rosling will make you think again and make you laugh while doing so.